Last of the Boys at Southwark Playhouse
12 years after its first outing across the pond, Steven Dietz’s award-winning play arrives in London for its European premiere. The story of two Vietnam vets haunted by the spectre of the US’s most controversial war is still very much relevant today. Although the grip that “’Nam” has held over the world’s collective consciousness may have loosened slightly, the sentiments still resonate fiercely down the years to America’s more recent forays onto foreign soil.
Set in the final summer of the 20th century, Last of the Boys looks back down the lens of history to try and make sense of the past. For 30 years, Ben (Demetri Goritsas) and Jeeter (Todd Boyce) have been united by the terrible things they’ve seen. While the rest of the world has moved on, they continue to be defined by their shared experiences, in very different ways. Both actors inhabit their roles brilliantly and create a very believable friendship, by turns affectionate and strained. A university professor and Rolling Stones groupie with a penchant for meditation, Jeeter’s ageing hippie doesn’t want to escape the 60s because he still reveres them. Goritsas gives us a polar opposite character study in Ben: cynical, weary and impotent, his view of the past isn’t so rose-tinted. Living alone, he seems to have voluntarily cut himself off from society and is unwilling to engage with the present.
Under John Haidar’s assured direction, all of the action unfolds within a short space of time and in a single location, the deserted trailer park where Ben’s is the last trailer standing. Max Dorey’s set is dominated by a dilapidated old caravan decorated with “Made in America” stickers and surrounded by the detritus of Ben’s stark life. It has a dreamlike, otherworldly quality that, along with Christopher Nairne’s lighting design, complements the play’s surreal interludes. As the old friends reunite following the funeral of Ben’s father, tensions build and the ghosts of the past – quite literally – appear.
A play about the effects of war could easily have strayed into heavy-handed territory. But Last of the Boys wears its subject matter lightly and Dietz’s dialogue is very funny. A secondary plot that introduces us to Jeeter’s new kooky girlfriend (Zoe Tapper) and her whisky-loving mother (Wendy Nottingham) presents the only real weak point. Although both Tapper and Nottingham are very good, this strand of the story feels slightly under-baked. Nonetheless, this is a moving, witty exploration of how even those who survive war can still become its casualties.
Photo: Ben Broomfield
Last of the Boys is on at Southwark Playhouse from 11th May 2016 until 4th June 2016, for further information or to book visit here.